Thursday, June 16, 2011

No I`m not alone, just far from home

Two nights ago I slept on the concrete floor in a corner outside an airport waiting for my plane to Madrid that was arriving no less than 11 hours later. I laid out my towel on the floor, wore as many clothes as I could and cuddled up to my backpack in the spot the nice policeman recommended where the wind wouldn`t get me. (Sorry Mum and Dad if you`re reading this!)

Backpacking is one giant no-frills goosebumps style choose-your-own-adventure. It`s taking advantage of the free breakfasts at hostels and using the bread, ham and cheese for sandwiches for lunch. It`s turning the map around over and over trying to figure out where you are, only to eventually fold it up, put it back in your bag and trust that you`ll find your way back somehow. It`s getting over the travel fatigue, getting out of your room and making yourself talk to strangers, walk to statues and ports and parks and do things you probably won`t have the chance to do again.
And yes, it`s sleeping outside of airports because you didn`t realise airports actually close and were banking on getting a nice spot on the airport chairs close to your boarding gate. Part of it is being scared, being cold, being lost. Its getting lost and found over and over and over again. Between all the lying on beaches all over Europe, taking siestas in parks by ports and monuments hundreds of years old, listening to buskers and watching street performers do their best to make crowds of tourists laugh and throw coins into worn-out hats. Between all the glory of everything you think traveling Europe is and is supposed to be, there`s the other moments that make you realise how lucky you are, just when you`re about to take it for granted.

One of my biggest realisations so far has been how reliant I am on other people when traveling by myself. I know nothing of where I am, and now for the first time traveling outside of Portugal and Spain where my spanglish won`t get me by - I know nothing of the language either. But people surprise you, they see your terror-stricken face and smile and ask you if you need help. All the time I just keep thinking `People are so nice, Why aren`t I this nice to people back home? ` I`ve had a South African guy buy me a custard tart waiting for a bus in Sintra, outside of Lisbon in Portugal while the wind and fog swallowed the view and my stomach grumbled. There was a French girl who more or less held-my-hand from when I got off the bus and put me on the metro on the way to my hostel here in Marseille. 

There are the stories of the wierdos too but most of those encounters are saved for frantic skype-dates with family and rapidly typed facebook chats with friends. The wierd and the wonderful, they`re all on show and all part of it. Now, I`m just enjoying the people watching, days of walking until my haviannas give me blisters, of having a cold cheap european beer at the end of a long day and curling up in my hostel bed because now I know what it`s like to be homeless for a night and can think of nothing better than a warm blanket in a room with a lock.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Alive, lost and somewhere in the world.

The funny thing about traveling by yourself is that you're actually not alone all that often. You meet people on the bus, at the train station, waiting for taxis, on walking tours and in hostels. The same misty-eyed travelers' look of confusion and awe plays across their faces and instantly you have something in common. Dazed and confused in a place you've never been.

You exchange the 'Where are you from'-s and 'Where are you going?'-s, stories of where've you been, wierd people you've met and places you've been that made you lose your shit. You go on random adventures to eat custard tarts in Belem and see turrets, playing royalty in castles and palaces in Sintra. You crawl through holes in large rocks that lead to small coves and beaches in Lagos and trawl through the thieves market in Lisbon.

And still there's the freedom of doing whatever you want, without agenda, without accountability to anybody. It still freaks me out a little. The world keeps expanding and getting smaller at the same time, but always I feel on top of the world and completely lost in it that it blows my mind. One week down, 11 to go. My life in one backpack. Though still alive, somewhere in the world.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Brave it.

I've packed up my room back into a suit case and put everything I think I'll need for 3 months of traveling into a backpack. The walls are bare and the glare from the window without a curtain looks strange, like a hostel. Shoes are packed, bags away, candles and incense sticks and things I've already collected over the last 4 months in enviro-bags at the foot of my bed.

Alternating between bouts of nervousness and denial, one empty room later it's all starting to hit me. The trips I've done so far have been mini-holidays, often over-packing and having too many summer dresses, being too well prepared, having familiar faces around and always heading home just as my bed was getting cold.

This time I'll be heading out on my own, trying not go robbed (hey, I've got a pretty good track record so far), lose anything (my passport, my standards of personal hygiene, my sanity etc.) and taking everything in. It'll be two days here, three days there, a country a week or even every couple of days. It's going to be  baguette fighting in Paris to the haunts of Dracula in Romania.

Recently returning from my post-university-exam vacation in Malta, I've been thinking a lot about being brave and what that means, about the incredulity at how different travels can be. I sat cross-legged on a ferry to the crystal blue waters of Comino reading about the travels of asylum-seekers washing up on the shores of Italy, Afghans detained back home in Australia and so many others in the true recounts of Caroline Moorehead in the book 'Human Cargo'... and again it showed me something bigger, braver. I watched the trailer for 'Go back to Where you Came From' and received emails from 'Welcome to Australia'. It's these links that put things in perspective, that show me what brave is, what it looks like. Somebody traveling to live.

Again, if you haven't checked it out already have a quick squizz on Will Travel 4 Life on what's going on, how you can get involved or just read up on the issue yourself. The links for the great campaigns that are also there and you can click on the links above.

The knots in my stomach are still there and there's a lump in my throat when I think about everything that lays ahead, the hours spent in transit, sleeping in airports, watching europe through the window of a bus, train and plane, the hostel after hostel after hostel. Yet with all the amazing things I'll know I'll see its the amazing things happening in the world bringing to the fore issues of Aslyum-seekers and refugees that it gives me hope and makes me brave.